Ancient Medicines: Coffee, Wine, Honey, and More

With the advent of modern medicine, illnesses can often be cured by taking a pill. In the past, though, people had to find natural ways to soothe their aches and pains or cure their ailments. These remedies included the foods, drinks, and spices that were available to them. Some of the most popular items used as healing medicines in ancient times include coffee, wine, honey, and chocolate. Spices were also commonly used as a healing agent in many countries.


When you think of coffee, you probably think of a hot beverage many people drink in the morning. But the ancient Chinese used coffee for medicinal purposes. Many early healers claimed that coffee could cure anything and everything, while others cautioned people against its use. Ancient Chinese culture said that coffee was part of the yang in nature. It invigorates our senses and is typically prescribed to people with anxiety, arrhythmia, or insomnia.

When we consume coffee, our central nervous system function is enhanced: We are able to perceive things better, which is why we feel more awake. Coffee can also improve our cognitive performance, increase blood flow to the kidneys, and increase the body's heart rate. It is easy to see, then, why coffee was used as medicine in ancient Chinese culture to heal those who were depressed or lethargic.

Wine and Liquor

Wine is said to be "the nectar of the gods," perhaps because of its many uses in healing. Wines that were made with peppers were used to medicate those who had stomach pains in ancient Greece and Rome. Spiced wines were thought to cover the spectrum of healing powers, some even acting as an aphrodisiac or digestive aid. Further still, wine was used to prevent colds and even to treat those who fell ill with bronchitis.

During times of prohibition, the belief that alcoholic beverages could be healing agents did not dissipate. In fact, forms were developed to obtain alcohol for medicinal purposes. Doctors could prescribe liquor because they thought that it had medicinal value. People believed that things such as brandy and whiskey had many healing qualities for everything from snake bites to certain diseases. Some alcoholic beverages were even used to cleanse open wounds and remove bacteria.


Honey has been highly recognized in the medical world for its antibacterial properties. Ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, and Africans all made good use of honey. It was used to treat a number of wounds, even ones as severe as those from amputations, ulcers, and burns. In more modern times, people have rediscovered the healing powers of honey. Sugar pastes are sometimes used today to help heal infections that surgery or antibiotics cannot cure. Some surgeons have even used sugar to lower the risk of infection when they perform open heart surgery: They pack the heart with sugar to help protect it from infection during operation.


Many cultures found chocolate to have healing powers. Mesoamericans used chocolate as a drink. It was mixed with hot chilies, maize, and other spices to create a drink that was said to heal the body and prevent illnesses. Later, chocolate was used to treat snakebites and hysteria, and it was also said to have restorative qualities. Many people were given chocolate to improve their breathing and heart health. Recently, chocolate has actually been found to have positive health effects due to the antioxidants it contains.

Spices and Seasonings

Spices were often used by the indigenous people of India. In fact, the use of spices benefits the overall health of the body, including acting as a shield against ailments and improving digestive health. There are more than 80 types of spices in the world, and 50 of them are native to India. One of the earliest cultivated foods that is used frequently within Indian culture as a flavoring agent is onion. These vegetables are useful in alleviating menstrual pains, aiding in the treatment of asthma, improving eyesight, and fighting the inflammation caused by bug bites. In modern culture, spices are still recommended to patients in some situations. For example, many people chew ginger root to help stop the symptoms of nausea.